Music is good for the soul. Whether it is country, pop, reggae, hip-hop or rock ’n’ roll, we all find inner peace and comfort when listening to our favorite song. The music industry is a billion dollar industry for a reason; it not only serves as entertainment but it helps people recover from mental, physical and emotional trauma. Music therapy has been used since the 18th century as a healing process. Music therapy even dates back to biblical times. Music therapy has helped victims of trauma throughout the world. Trauma can be in the form of physical abuse, terrorist attacks, war, asylum, mental abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse. Especially in the past 20 years, music therapy has played a pivotal role in trauma therapy.
1. Music reduces emotional stress.
Music has been shown to reduce the emotional stress induced by trauma. It also has helped patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The calming and soothing melodies can help channel positive emotions and memories that are not associated with the traumatic events.
“When dealing with intrusive and arousal symptoms, music therapists mainly focus on reducing the emotional stress and anxiety level, channeling or redirecting emotions via healthy outlets, and developing relaxation or diversion. In order to accomplish this, sleep-inducing tapes, relaxation through music, or other means are used to provide a way for a person to express his or her feelings in a safe way. Instrumental and singing improvisations are often used for this purpose.”
2. Music stimulates an increase of self-awareness.
Music therapy can elicit feelings of the past and allow people to come face-to-face with their issues or demons. By using certain techniques, music can allow people to differentiate positive emotions not associated with trauma from negative past emotions. Over time people can gain a sense of self-awareness of what is and what is not healthy, and choose which thoughts they allow themselves to experience.
3. Music relieves physiological stress.
Because of its benefits on the body, singing can reduce physiological stress. Singing stimulates deep breathing, which slows the heart rate and, in effect, calms the nervous system, reducing the levels of stress and anxiety.
“Singing is also a neuromuscular activity, and muscular patterns are closely linked to psychological patterns and emotional response. When we sing, internally resonating vibrations break up and release blockages of energy, which is particularly relevant to the traumatized people who have frozen, numbed off areas in the body that hold traumatic experiences.”
4. Music evokes imagery of unresolved issues.
Guided imagery music (GIM) is a mechanism by which the therapist uses music to help elicit self-awareness through a state of self-hypnosis. The therapist chooses certain music based on the patient’s story and past. The imagery the patient creates often depicts current and past experiences in his or her life, allowing the patient to focus on and identify problems.
5. Music creates positive transference.
“Vocal holding initially tends to promote a positive transference, that of the longed for good mother of early infancy and childhood. This highly empathic musical environment is fertile soil in which trust can grow and feelings can be brought to light. If the therapeutic relationship feels trustworthy enough, the traumatized client will begin to differentiate feelings such as grief, terror and rage. At those moments, the therapist and the music have to be experienced by the client as strong and resilient enough to withstand these intense affects.”
Positive transference refers to transferring the patient’s positive feelings of past experiences onto the therapist. Vocal holding refers to an improvisation of two musical chords and the therapist’s voice to facilitate improvised singing between the patient and the therapist. This often brings up unresolved issues of the patient’s past — especially unresolved childhood issues.
The Sovereign Health Group is a leading behavioral health treatment provider with locations across the United States that treat people with addiction, mental health disorders and co-occurring conditions. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.
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About the author
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.